Some of the biggest names in British pop and rock music hail from Manchester, a city that’s often dubbed the Capital of the North. Spanning several genres and igniting a whole musical movement, it’s fair to say that popular music wouldn’t be the same today without its influence. Here are some of the best acts to have come out of the city.
The well-loved five-piece with distinctive harmonies hit the scene in 1962, and had hits including “Just One Look”, “The Air That I Breathe” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. Singer Graham Nash also went on to form Crosby, Stills & Nash.
This pop band had several catchy hits, including “I’m into Something Good”. Peter Noone’s Mancunian accent was recognisable in most songs, despite several of them being aimed at a US fan base. They started out in 1962.
Pioneers of the post-punk movement and one of the most influential bands of the decade, this band formed in Salford, Greater Manchester. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was probably their most popular hit. They got together in 1976, and after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, the remaining members went on to form New Order in 1980 who went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed bands of their time, releasing notable hits such as “Blue Monday”, “Regret” and “Bizarre Love Triangle”.
Alternative rock band from Salford whose hits included “Lazyitis”, “Step On” and “Kinky Afro”. They formed in 1980 but didn’t achieve major success until the nineties. Well known Manchester personality Bez wasn’t actually a member until later on – he became friends with lead singer Shaun Ryder and joined as a dancer and percussionist.
This highly influential band were famous for Morrissey’s distinctive vocals and Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar sound. Their many hits included “This Charming Man” and “Panic”. Lead singer Morrissey began a solo career after the band’s break up in ’87, and remains a highly influential figure in indie music and pop culture.
The Stone Roses
Formed in 1983, this rock band helped establish the ‘Madchester’ movement and had hits such as “I Wanna Be Adored” and “Fools Gold”. Their debut album was a huge success, and was even cited as one of the greatest British albums ever recorded. The lead singer, Ian Brown, went on to have a solo career.
Fronted by the Gallagher brothers, Oasis were a long-running fixture of the northern music scene, catching the tail-end of the “˜Madchester’ movement. Hits included “Wonderwall”, “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. The band got together in 1991, and their distinctive sound has become a musical by-word for Manchester across the world. Other notable artists from Manchester include The Bee Gees, The Buzzcocks, Take That, Elbow, The Chemical Brothers and many more.
Live music venues in Manchester
From live bands and club nights to art exhibitions and poetry readings, Manchester’s rich musical heritage has lent itself well to a cultural scene that is still proudly thriving today. And of course, a booming arts scene is nothing without awesome venues.
Here are some of the best places in which to immerse yourself in the artistic talents of the city.
The Albert Hall
A Grade II listed building, The Albert Hall is a popular venue for live gigs. With elements of Baroque and Gothic design, the ornate building was once used as a Methodist meeting place. The venue itself is huge, with a balcony around the edge that allows for multiple-angle views of the stage.
Best for: Lively, packed gigs.
Another Grade II listed building, The o2 Ritz was built in 1927, and as such has grand dancehall roots. Famous acts that have graced the stage include The Beatles and R.E.M., as well as Mancunian music royalty The Stone Roses and The Smiths. The venue boasts a sprung dancefloor, as well as a high stage, so everyone can catch a great view of the acts performing.
Best for: Big names.
The Deaf Institute
With three bars over three floors, as well as a kitchen serving up moreish meals, The Deaf Institute plays host to live gigs, comedy shows and club nights. You can relax in one of the comfy booths in the basement bar while sipping on a frozen cocktail, or head to the first floor and dance under the decorative domed ceiling to artists that will fast become favourites.
Best for: Discovering upcoming talent.
Staging over 250 performances per year, you can catch plenty of classic acts at Bridgewater Hall. It’s an international concert venue, where you can listen to a variety of genres, including classical music, rock, jazz, world music and pop. Three orchestras – including the UK’s oldest symphony orchestra, The Hallé – also have residencies here.
Best for: Sophisticated, sit-down concerts.
Housed inside a striking city-centre building, the Royal Exchange seats up to 750 people over three levels. The building itself has an intriguing history. It was one of the world’s centres for the cotton trade until WWII (if you look up, you can still see the trading board with the closing figures of the final day). The building was being threatened with demolition, until the theatre company was founded in 1976. Several well-known names have trod the boards – from Albert Finney and Helen Mirren to Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant.
Best for: Captivating, immersive theatre.
Band on the wall
Based in the city’s vibrant Northern Quarter, Band on the Wall hosts a variety of shows and club nights. Craig Charles plays a monthly funk set, and both prog rock and psychedelic bands frequently perform. The venue itself has a great atmosphere, and as it’s quite small, it’s easy to get up really close to the stage and the performers. The club also runs a music education programme, Brighter Sound, which operates in the venue as well as in the community and at nearby schools.
Best for: Intimate, up-close gigs.
The Night & Day Café
A popular café bar and live music venue, the Night & Day Café is located on Oldham Street, close to the Arndale Centre (a popular shopping mall). It developed from a chip shop into a venue in the nineties, and has played a huge part in Manchester’s music scene, helping bands such as Elbow get off their feet when they first started out. Musicians such as Johnny Marr, Frank Turner and Tim Burgess showed their support for the bar when it was threatened with closure in 2014.
Best for: A taste of Madchester history.
The Warehouse Project
This is a series of club nights held across Greater Manchester where several renowned DJs – including Deadmau5, Pete Tong and Aphex Twin – have performed. The Warehouse Project nights are popular with people across the country, and they run in seasons which correlate with the student calendar (September up until new year). Expect vast but dingy (in a good way) underground spaces, patrons who are passionate about music and a party atmosphere like no other. The current venue is Store Street – a space under the train station which once served as an air raid shelter.
Best for: Dancing until dawn.
Based over three floors, Sound Control has a basement club, two live music rooms and a ground floor bar. Club nights also run here, and the acoustics are second to none. The venue started out as a music shop called A1 in the early nineties – it didn’t actually become a venue until 2010. A visit to the shop back then may have led to a chance encounter with everyone from Noel Gallagher to Gary Barlow, as well as Reni, who spotted the audition poster there for the Stone Roses. The drummer won the audition after ripping the poster down, so that no one else would show up.
Best for: Busy, bustling nights.
Located just off the Curry Mile, this unique site accommodates band practices and art exhibitions as well as live gigs and club nights. Antwerp Mansion, as the name suggests, is a restored Victorian mansion with space that can be used in pretty much any creative capacity. The bar is cheap, and you can check out everything from poetry readings and food stalls to the latest DJs and upcoming bands.
Best for: Local, creative talent.
Matt and Phred’s
Soulful music and the best talent in jazz fill up seven nights a week at Matt and Phred’s Jazz Club. The venue is not averse to folk, electro, swing and ska performers either. The cocktails are exceptional, and you can even order food until midnight. On top of all that, entry is free Monday to Thursday, and on weekends it’s only five pounds to get in.
Best for: Mellow jazz gigs.
An exploration of Manchester’s musical scene – past and present – would be incomplete without a nod to The Hacienda. The former nightclub opened in 1982, and was owned by Factory Records and New Order (it was mostly their record sales that provided financial support). Many famous acts played there back in the day, including Madonna, The Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen. The club became synonymous with the “˜Madchester’ culture of the eighties and early nineties, helping to augment the rise of acid house and rave music. It was once labelled the most famous club in the world. You can still visit the building today, but it’s now a block of flats. You can also check out some artifacts from the club at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. If you’re keen to find out more about The Hacienda, check out the movie 24 Hour Party People.
Exploring the city’s art
Manchester is also home to a vibrant art scene. Here are some of the intriguing spaces and inspiring events where creativity runs free”¦
Based in a former Victorian Mill in Salford, Islington Mill is a leading independent UK arts organisation. There are studios, public arts programmes, artist residencies and even an artists’ B&B. The organisation’s aim was to build a network of independent artists, and provide a space where they could meet, create and thrive. Islington Mill is currently run by visual artist Maurice Carlin, musician Mark Carlin and designer Bill Campbell.
The Manchester Art Gallery
One of the best art museums in the country, the Manchester Art Gallery is based in the heart of the city and boasts a mix of historic and contemporary pieces – in fact, the works span over six centuries. The exhibitions vary, with independent artists often taking focus.
The Manchester International Festival
Occurring every two years, the Manchester International Festival (MIF) started in 2007 and has gone from strength to strength. From theatrical productions and musical performers to comedy acts and operas, it’s a complete feast of innovative entertainment. We spoke to festival Press Officer Jamie-leigh Hargreaves, who shared some of his favourite performances so far. “Some highlights of the first four festivals include premieres of Steve McQueen’s commemoration of fallen British soldiers, Queen and Country; Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and Chen Shi-Zheng’s Chinese opera Monkey: Journey to the West; group art event Il Tempo del Postino featuring work by Matthew Barney, Tacita Dean and Olafur Eliasson; Zaha Hadid Architects’ new space for the music of Bach; BjÃ¶rk’s three week Biophilia residency; director Robert Wilson’s The Life and Death of Marina AbramoviÄ‡, starring AbramoviÄ‡, Willem Dafoe and Antony; The xx performing in a hidden city centre space for audiences of just 60 and Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth.
“In addition to income from co-commissioners and ticket sales, MIF receives support from private sponsorship, individuals, trusts and foundations. This money is raised by building on the solid support MIF enjoys from Manchester City Council and Arts Council England, our principal public funders.”
The Manchester Wire dubbed Video Jam as “one of Manchester’s most innovative nights”, and the organisation has played host to over 30 site-specific events across the UK. They’ve also conducted a live stream to New York’s Silent Barn, along with cross country collaborations with Falmouth University and a residency with CANVAS in Ibiza. We spoke to a member of the team – artist Sarah Hill, who explained, “Video Jam is an independent, ongoing series of unique events which seeks to explore and re-examine the relationship between moving image and live sound by commissioning musicians and sound artists to compose and perform live original accompaniment of their own interpretations to short, contemporary films.”
One such series of events was Spaces, a UK tour that took place in venues such as cathedrals, glass atriums and underground vaults. They have also worked with major institutions in the city, including Manchester Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Video Jam have built a network of more than 300 artists, and this continues to grow as they’re always open to submissions in the form of film, music and event proposals. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Instagram collective WeAreMCR saw a gap for promoting Manchester in a visually appealing way. They decided that Instagram was the ideal platform for sharing the talent that the city has to offer. We spoke to Jake Ansbro from WeAreMCR, who explained what the organisation is about, “Collectively, there are a huge amount of extremely talented and creative people that use Instagram daily. We have built a community which merges all this talent, by collating fantastic content of our city and telling a story of the city from a range of perspectives to the world (we’ve had over 45,000 uses of our hashtag #MCRUK in 6 months).
“We’ve had the opportunity to work with some really cool brands, and handling an engaging and growing community is great for meeting new people and opening up new opportunities [“¦] it’s great to utilise and showcase the skills of many artists on different projects.
“With a focus on upcoming media platforms, we already have the largest Instagram and Snapchat accounts that represent Manchester with plans to open a YouTube channel in the near future, which is really exciting.”
Featured work: The Deaf Institute.
Bio: Aliyah is a visual artist originally from Manchester. She’s worked on a variety of projects, including music videos, costume design and solo pieces of work. More of her work can be found on her website.
Featured works: The Ritz, The Hacienda, Albert Hall, Bridgewater Hall, the Royal Exchange and Manchester International Festival
Bio: Having worked as an architect, Simone specialises in architectural visualisations. She now works as a senior lecturer at the Manchester School of Art. Discover her latest updates and more of her pieces on her website.
Featured work: Night and Day.
Bio: Caroline’s charming illustrations cover a great range of outputs, all while maintaining an endearing, distinctive style. Incidentally, she carries out her work at Islington Mill. Take a look at her website and get lost in her world.
If all of this has got you in the mood for exploring, start planning your trip to Manchester today. Remember, if you’re planning a stay in the capital, the train from London to Manchester takes just two hours.